Meet Shannon Webster, 2017 Ms. Wheelchair Illinois. Shannon is an inspiration to us for her determination to help others and her steadfast pursuit of her dreams! Diagnosed with cerebral palsy with spastic dysplasia when she was 2 years old, Shannon never put limits on what she could accomplish in life. She works as a Recruiting Programs Specialist at Exelon in Chicago where she is able to empower others and foster a spirit of inclusion for all people with disabilities in the workplace. Shannon also serves as a mentor for other people with disabilities to show them that they too can graduate from college and have a job in corporate America or do whatever it is they want to do with their life. We are excited to share her words of wisdom with all Clever Belles.
Who in your life encouraged you the most to pursue your dreams?
My mom! She has always been my biggest supporter and cheerleader throughout my life. My success and drive comes from her belief in me.
Can you remember a time when you were told you couldn’t do something you really wanted to do? If so, how did you respond to that?
In Junior High I was told I couldn’t climb a rock wall in gym class when everyone else was doing it. I decided I would be a little rebellious and try anyways. If I fell, at least I would have a harness so I couldn’t go very far, and I climbed that wall all the way to the top thanks to some strong upper body muscles!
Who is one of your role models and what do you admire most about that person?
Oprah Winfrey -- I have always loved how she used her voice as a force for good in the world and never let her adversity as a young woman overcome her life. She is definitely a hero of mine.
What do you love most about your advocacy work on behalf of individuals with disabilities?
Getting the chance to meet so many awe inspiring people! I feel like my life is so abundantly blessed and I have gotten many opportunities to be a trailblazer for increased accessibility, empowerment and the need for employment for all with disabilities.
What do you love most about your career in Human Resources at Exelon?
I love the opportunity I get to interact with so many different departments in our company and really be an integral part of engaging and attracting the future talent of our company. It is a really exciting time to be a part of the utility/energy industry! I get to be the beginning of many people’s careers especially working with our Summer internship program, I love it!
What is one of your biggest challenges you face in either your advocacy work and/or your career and what have you learned from it?
The biggest challenge I face in my career is my commute and accessibility to get into my work building. I go from the train to a bus/cab to my building. It has helped me to become an advocate and not be afraid to speak up for something that I need that might also help others.
As a contestant for the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, you were required to give a speech. Have you always liked public speaking and do you ever get nervous? If so, how do you overcome those nerves?
No I haven’t always liked public speaking. Growing up I was terrified of public speaking actually. It wasn’t until 8th grade where my teacher challenged me to speak about my life with Cerebral Palsy to my class. It was then that I realized the power of my own voice and the positive impact my voice could have on others. I still get nervous sometimes when speaking to others. The best thing I do to calm myself down is take a deep breath and say a little prayer before beginning. I actually won Best Speech at Nationals in August so I guess I owe it all to my 8th grade teacher Mrs. McGuire for instilling that courage in me.
What's next for you and where do you want to take your advocacy work?
I would love to continue public speaking as a side profession. I really enjoy meeting people and sharing my experience if it can help others. I also would love to write a book some day and share my story that way. I hope to go to the USBLN conference next years which is a national disability employment focused conference that I have spoken at two times before.
Any words of advice for young girls and women about pursuing their dreams?
Your world is in your hands, embrace it and go for it! You can do anything you put your mind to if you just believe in yourself and the power of your dreams. You will encounter obstacles, expect them, but you will also encounter many people who can help you achieve your dreams. You cannot do it alone. You are beautiful, good and worthy of every good thing coming your way!
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